European derbies, in any sport, bring out the best of contests. With regional supremacy and a historic element to the rivalry, these match-ups, more often than not, evoke sentiments unmatched by even the best of fairy tales.
It wasn’t expected to be any different in the final of the Odisha Men’s Hockey World Cup, which saw two European powerhouses go head-to-head for the ultimate glory. For Belgium, it was a chance to script history by winning their first ever WC; for the Dutch, it was a chance to win their fourth in eight final appearances, matching Pakistan’s record of four WC wins in the process.
A fiery encounter saw the encounter end goalless, followed by a tense shootout that ultimately saw the Red Lions come out on top, ensuring the Cup heads to Brussels.
Kalinga has arrived
While the name that pops up in mind when one hears the word “Carnival” is Rio de Janeiro, the atmosphere in the capital of Odisha — which has otherwise earned the nickname “Temple City” — was no less than a carnival.
Odisha, also the official sponsor of the Indian hockey team, left no stone unturned in making the maiden world cup to be staged in the city anything short of a festival.
With India having hosted two world cups prior to this — in Mumbai and New Delhi — this was the chance for Bhubaneswar to shine on the global Hockey map.
The tournament, that began on November 28, saw the participation of 16 teams — a change from earlier formats. The city is known for its hockey-crazy crowd, and the Kalinga Stadium registered near-full attendance even for matches not featuring India.
This was no alien territory for visiting teams, though, given most of the overseas players had earlier had a run in the Champions Trophy and Hockey World League staged at the iconic venue, as well as during the Hockey India League, in which the stadium serves as a home ground to local outfit Kalinga Lancers.
But what the visiting nations wouldn’t have anticipated is perhaps the tremendous support from the home crowd, and travelling support from The Netherlands, Australia, England and even Argentina. That the fans travelled all the way to Bhubaneswar, a city unlikely to have been heard of much in foreign countries, was a testament to the success of the tournament that truly had a global flavour to it from the point of view of fans.
If anyone thought the crowds will dwindle after India’s heartbreaking exit in the Quarter Final — in which they were edged 2-1 by the Dutch — they were in for a surprise. The stadium was jam-packed for the semis and the final, with the latter witnessing attendance in excess capacity.
Being the second world cup to be hosted by India in just eight years, this was a stark contrast to the Delhi edition in 2010, largely on account of the initiative by the Odisha administration in projecting Bhubaneswar as the Hockey capital of the country.
Measures such as making the city Wi-Fi enabled, starting services such as “Mo Bus” and “Mo Cycle” as part of the Smart City initiative, along with the city coming alive with artwork across the walls and roads, were part of revamping the look of the capital.
Coinciding with the World Cup was the .FEST, a mega festival comprising food festivals, story telling sessions, and entertainment shows with performances by Bollywood celebrities.
As the curtains fell on the grand tournament on Sunday, it was a moment to savour, not just for the residents of Bhubaneswar but for hockey fans across the globe.
The WC, which saw many high voltage encounters, may have just found its new home. Trust Indian hockey fans to take a cue from English football fans and sing “Hockey’s Coming Home”, as the Kalinga cements its place in the sport’s Hall of Fame and becomes the home of Indian Hockey.